Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Billion Acts of Green ... by Taking Time to Play

Make gardening an outdoor adventure.

The most important aspect of family gardening is spending active time together - away from TVs, DVDs, video games, computers, and cell phones.

Have reasonable expectations about what children will do in the garden and about how much produce you may actually get (you can always find a farmer’s market if you need to).

Take time to smell the herbs, roll in the grass, run in the sprinkler, and leave the garden behind for a long walk around the neighborhood.

Alegre Terra Dia!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Billion Acts of Green ... with Child-Friendly Spaces

Be prepared for less-than-perfect plantings.

Let’s face it: gardening can be messy business. And most children love to dig in dirt, so save a small area for digging, even after planting is complete.

It’s important for children to feel like the garden is really theirs - so be willing to put up with crooked rows and mixed plantings. Children can also get attached to “their” weeds and want to care for them right along with the veggies and fruits.

Bottom line: It doesn’t have to look perfect to produce perfectly delicious produce!

Glade Jord Dag!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Billion Acts of Green ... with Baby Veggies for Little Gardeners

Choose child-sized tools, plants, and produce.

Children do best with things that fit well into their hands - and their mouths.

Get child-sized hoes, rakes, and shovels at a nursery or garden center. Try to find strong, genuine looking tools so that little ones feel like “real” gardeners.

Can’t afford new tools this summer? Large recycled plastic spoons from the kitchen work great in containers.

Look for specific miniature or baby vegetables plants - such as corn, radishes, tomatoes, and zucchini - just the right-size for small eaters!

A billion acts of green ...

malama aina ... mahalo.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Billion Acts of Green ... with Square Foot Salad Gardens

Start small - consider a salad bowl garden.

If you have been gardening for years, you probably know how much work you can reasonably take on.

If you’ve never been much of a gardener, start small - in containers or a few square feet in the yard.

Concentrate easy-to-grow items for salads: a variety of leaf lettuces, some radishes, a cherry tomato plant or two, and a few fragrant herbs (such as parley and basil).

Window boxes and other containers (clean bleach or milk bottles with tops cut off) work especially well for kids.

Felice Giorno Della Terra!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011 ... and Home Grown Tomatoes

To celebrate Earth Day 2011 and continue our focus on Family Garden Fun, we're offering a tip a day for your family through Cinco Day Mayo.

Feliz Día de la Tierra ...

The refrain from an old John Denver song suggests that there’s “only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” Although you may find homegrown tomatoes in your farmer’s markets this summer, you can’t ever buy the pride and joy of picking and eating a tomato grown in your own garden!

Family gardens bring many other pleasures to both adults and children - such as working together in the sun and maybe the rain; digging in the dirt with wiggly worms; watching things grow and change; and, most of all, learning to eat the freshest produce on the planet.

In so many ways, gardening is the best possible combination of nutrition and physical activity.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More GYO Tips

Pick the right seeds or plants.

Some backyard veggies grow well from seeds (carrots, radishes, beans, and peas, for example). Others do best with an indoor or greenhouse start, such as tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. While most garden varieties will do just fine anywhere, you may want to choose specialized seeds, such as plants for your specific latitude (e.g., northern mountains or central plains), heirloom varieties (generally non-hybrid, like your grandmother used to grow), organic, or open-pollinated.

Feed and water with care.

Throughout the growing season, your vegetable plants will need the right amount of moisture and the right balance of nutrients. Getting both right will depend on your soil and the weather. Too much water or fertilizer can be as big a problem as too little. The instructions on the seed packets or seedlings are always a good place to start. However, your best bet is to chat with a local garden ‘coach’ - a green-thumbed family member, friend, neighbor, or Master Gardener.

Pick the fruits and veggies of your labor.

While planting, weeding, and watering can be fun family activities, harvesting is obviously the tastiest part of the season. Freshly picked veggies can be so delicious (and nutritious) that they never make it to the kitchen or to the table! Want to grow your garden successfully from year to year? Keeping a simple garden journal can help you remember exactly what you planted, how well it grew, when you picked the veggies, and what your family enjoyed eating the most.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting into the GYO (Grow Your Own) Habit

A GYO (Grow Your Own) habit can be good for the budget, good for the body, and good for the soul! Never been much of a gardener before? No worries! Green thumbs are not a necessity and savvy growing advice is as close as your computer or local garden guru.

Find a personal go-to GYO expert.

Ask the neighbor who always has beautiful veggies; most gardeners love to help newbies. Check with your Extension office about their Master Gardener program. These community volunteers are trained to provide exactly the kind of assistance you need. Get friendly with the folks at a nearby garden center or greenhouse. They understand local conditions and are usually more than happy to offer plenty of free instruction along with your purchase of vegetable seeds and plants.

Pick the right site.

Three critical elements are necessary to start a successful vegetable garden: (1) Sunlight, at least 6 hours a day throughout the growing season; (2) Water, the closer to a faucet or hose the better; and (3) Soil, something between rock-hard clay and soft sand. Fortunately, soil is something that you can improve over time. A home compost pile is one of best and easiest ways to do this - by recycling kitchen and yard waste into rich organic matter that is good for any garden soil.

Start small, grow over time.

Great big gardens can overwhelm the best intentions of anyone. The smartest strategy is to grow your garden slowly, as you learn what works best in your location and what your family likes to eat the most. You can start with a few containers on a deck or patio. Small theme gardens are fun for everyone: Try a salad garden (lettuce and other greens, herbs, tiny tomatoes, and maybe radishes) or a pizza garden (Roma tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, oregano, and a pepper or two).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gardening for Food, Fun, and Fitness

Getting down and dirty in a garden can help you grow nutrient-rich produce for your family and help everyone grow a healthier body at the same time. Add the stress-reducing benefits of fresh air and sunshine - and you’ve got a win-win-win with fun, fitness, and great-tasting produce from one activity. With young kids, keep the garden space small and expect less than ‘perfect’ plantings. Children love to play in the dirt, so don’t worry about keeping rows straight and tidy.


Here’s a short list of ways to turn garden activities into active fun for children. If you show them that you are having fun, they will enjoy just about anything you do.

1. Rake leaves: In the garden or on the lawn, piles of leaves are fun for jumping.

2. Build a compost pile: Kids are fascinated by turning garbage into soil.

3. Prepare the soil: Outdoors or in a container, it’s fun to mix stuff together!

4. Hoe the rows: Once everything is mixed, it’s time to get ready for planting.

5. Bike to the garden center: Use pedal power to go pick out your seeds.

6. Walk around a greenhouse: Stroll around to pick out seedlings or flowers.

7. Dig some holes: Used serving spoons and spatulas make great tools for kids.

8. Water the plants: Moving hoses and carrying buckets is really fun on hot days.

9. Pull the weeds: Children quickly learn which plants stay and which should go.

10. Pick the produce: Definitely the best part of gardening!!


Make it fun, do it together! Whether you garden indoors or out, in the back yard or at a community space, the important thing is spending active, TV-free time together!!

For today's photo, we offer our sincere thanks to Jefferson School SACC (School Age Child Care), Helena School District #1, Helena, Montana.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Family Garden Tips ... from Montana Team Nutrition

“Montana Team Nutrition is honored to be part of the Nancy’s Garden project,” says Katie Bark, Program Director. “Eating the veggies grown in Nancy’s Garden is a great way to celebrate with delicious foods students have grown themselves. Here’s how families can get involved at home by gardening with their kids this summer.”

Garden together in a container at home:

Like the 4th graders involved in Nancy’s Garden, families can enjoy planting vegetables in containers when growing plants outdoors is not practical or when yard space is limited.

Garden together in the backyard:

A family that gardens together can stay healthy together. Backyard gardens provide plenty of opportunities for fun outdoor activities - and a “sneaky” way to get kids to eat more vegetables. When children plant and take care of vegetables, they are much more likely to eat the products - sometimes before they even get to the kitchen.

Garden together in a community plot or schoolyard:

Many Montana communities now offer communal gardening spaces, like the long running Garden City Harvest in Missoula. MSU Extension provides information on finding or starting a garden in your town and many other gardening topics on their websiteand through local county Extension offices.

Thanks to our friends in Green Bay Public Schools Food Service Department for the beautiful photo.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Springtime Green ... Getting Going on Gardens

It's springtime across the country ... and that means plenty of travel for me to give presentations at dietetic, school nutrition, and other professional meetings. You can download PDFs of my Recent Presentations on my website ... and read about School Meals That Rock in the states that I have visited on Facebook. Here, I am going to spend April honoring Earth Day 2011 by focusing on growing gardens and enjoying produce, starting with a wonderful new initiative by Montana's First Lady.


As a botanist, Montana’s First Lady Nancy Schweitzer is a strong supporter of math and science education in Montana schools. Together, the Governor and First Lady launched a Math and Science Initiative to help Montana youth discover math and science in K-12 classrooms and higher education, find out about career opportunities, and explore Montana’s splendid surroundings. The Initiative’s newest feature, Nancy’s Garden, brings fresh vegetables and healthy eating to the classroom.

Nancy’s Garden is a new opportunity that can help create the next generation of gardeners, scientists, and engineers in Montana,” says the First Lady. “The Governor and I hope teachers find this a helpful, hands-on resource to nurture gardening, promote healthy eating, and explore math and science.”

Nancy’s Garden provides an exciting gardening experience for Montana 4th grade students by supplying grow boxes, seeds, lesson plans, instructions, and other materials for their classrooms. The teacher’s guide was designed with the help of gardening and nutrition experts from the Montana Department of Agriculture, Montana State University Extension, and Montana Team Nutrition. The lesson plans take students through planting, growing, and finally eating produce from Nancy’s Garden. With tips from the Governor’s Office of Community Service, teachers are encouraged to connect their classroom garden to the community with volunteers and service learning activities.

Montana’s 4th grade students are in for a wonderful growing experience this spring,” says the First Lady. “I encourage families across Big Sky country to join in the fun and grow gardens at home too. It is such a natural, hands-on way to get students excited about math and science and engaged in healthy eating!”